Can pottery be political? For Maine potter Ayumi Horie, the answer is, "Why wouldn't it be?" Horie is a maker, activist, and curator whose work combines old ideas and new along with community, creativity, social justice, and lots of charm. From her shop in Portland, she produces and organizes a stunning array of work, all of it thoughtful, unique, and handmade.
"Making things by hand defines what and who we are as human beings," Horie says. "We ascribe stories to objects and especially in Maine, we find meaning in craftsmanship."
Horie's work revolves around one central concept: time. You can see this in the juxtaposition of traditional-looking earthenware with modern colors and characters, but also in her campaigns promoting "slow" activism, crafts, and other time-intensive, long-game objectives. In a culture of distraction and short attention spans, Horie is firmly anchored, reminding us that our history is an important part of who we are, and that time is one of our greatest unappreciated resources.
"Growing up in Maine, it's impossible not to feel the tug of history because it's everywhere and still relevant," Horie says. "All my work marries old and new."
Portland Brick is a project that perfectly embodies this attitude. In the history-rich India Street district, Horie and her collaborators repaired the sidewalks with handmade bricks, each stamped with a phrase calling out a piece of the neighborhood's history.
On a national scale, Horie co-leads The Democratic Cup, an activism project that encourages people to purchase handmade cups with politically inspiring messages, then share a cup of coffee and have an important conversation. Horie explains: "We're marrying social justice and pottery because there's a deeper conversation that can begin with objects that are in our daily lives and in intimate spaces like the kitchen. It's a different kind of activism from a protest march or phone call to a member of Congress and it supports other actions."
At the end of the day, though, it all comes back to Horie's studio, where she continually experiments with both traditional and modern ideas. In college, she invented a technique of dry-throwing her pots —"a distant cousin of rough Japanese ware made for the tea ceremony"—which gives her work a uniquely charming feel. Now, she's experimenting with a RAM press to create a line of ramen bowls. Her challenge: can she retain the warmth and character of the handmade using industrial processes?
Yet, there's another challenge for Horie: expanding the audience and appeal of traditional and handmade craft products. A photographer in another lifetime, Horie focuses a fair amount of effort on creating visual assets that show her work in creative new ways. The goal is to get people excited about buying handmade.
"Especially in this day and age, I want to see consumers stepping up the plate to support small makers as a political act and as a political choice," Horie says. "By choosing handmade work, consumers can create a world that rejects disposability in favor of individual creativity that's not dependent on huge corporations."